I never thought I’d be into this, but I like Avenger movies. I completely ignored Thor and Iron Man and Captain America, but one day some friends invited me to go to see the Avengers – that first movie with the ensemble cast, and I really enjoyed it. The humour, the heroism, was something that really captured my imagination. So I started delving into a genre of movie I didn’t realise that I really liked, too: the origin story movie. The origin story movie is great – but usually because you already know that Peter Parker saves New York City, and Captain America heads up a team of heroes, or Tony Stark has a range of unprecedented technology that defends the country. Knowing what they are makes knowing where they came from intriguing. It’s even better when they don’t have a noble or powerful background. You can have your Thor and your Iron Man. Give me a kid who gets bitten by a spider. Or a weedy conscript who is bulked up by experimental chemicals. Or a reclusive scientist that has anger management issues. The more unlikely, the better.
When you read the gospels, they give us different origin stories. They start introducing Jesus in different ways. Mark introduces Jesus as an adult. There’s no Christmas in Mark, the story starts with Jesus at age 30. In Matthew, Jesus is introduced as royal – you get the magi with the gifts and the palaver with King Herod wanting to hunt him down. John has no baby stories of Jesus, but introduces him as the Word, the creative life force in the beginning of all things. But Luke wants to tell us an origin story differently to the others. It’s the story we read in Luke 2. It was written assuming that people knew the endgame, the grownup fully-fledged hero Jesus. Just like I saw the Avengers movie and then got into Captain America origin movies, this story was written with people already knowing a fait bit of Jesus’ reputation.
So, let’s get that frame in our heads. I’m going to tell you about Jesus backwards.
Jesus, the resurrected one. Burst into life. Stronger than death. Appeared to people and gave them God’s spirit, this life force that empowered them to bring hope and healing to the world.
Jesus, the dying one, betrayed by his friend to religious and political enemies, falsely accused and condemned to torture and death. He chose not to fight back but died on a cross, in a cosmic act of love and forgiveness that combatted the root of all evil in this world, defeating it with non-violence in the ultimate sacrificial act.
Jesus, the leader with a following gathering momentum, as he challenged the status quo. Proving himself wise and courageous, he argues with the authorities and proposes a way of living that is radically different when people assumed there was no other choice.
Jesus, the miracle worker, who makes wind and sea calm, who casts out demons, who heals the unhealable. Filled with compassion, he touches the untouchables and notices the invisibles, releasing people from their past and their present conditions, for a new future.
Jesus, the teacher, who gathers together a rag-tag collection of people and tells them stories, lives life alongside them, opens up scripture and teaches them to love each other, pray, and understand what God is doing.
It’s all pretty exciting and impressive, isn’t it? But here is the origin story that Luke wants us to know:
Jesus’ beginnings – this incredibly powerful son of God – are in a tiny town, from a nation that is oppressed and occupied, born to a woman who is disgraced because she’s pregnant before she got married, in a space that was the last space available, and the only people who knew this amazing arrival had happened were the lowest ranking people in society you can imagine.
Luke wants us to know, at Christmas, that when God begins something, it begins small. It begins unlikely and obscure. It begins rough and uncomfortable and dirty and awkward. The mighty God of the whole cosmos chooses the small town, the pregnant teen, the inconvenient census, the last nook in an inn, the rough and ready shepherds. And the beginning starts with the words “God is with you”.
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